As I shared with you in my article about why I had problems with making art, digging into the artistic part of me has always been painful for me, especially when it comes to art forms such as drawing, painting, or creating some sort of “product,” that can be seen, felt and touched.
I have been much more comfortable with performance arts and writing, but still have a lack of confidence, when it comes to writing fiction and poetry, or getting on a stage to sing or put on a costume to portray someone else. The audition and submission process in both arenas scare me tremendously.
Most people do not realize the panic I feel when I am ready to take on an audience of some kind. In addition to my natural personality trait of wanting to please others, be liked and fit-in, I took on a lot of fear of rejection and abandonment or being made fun of in my early days. I still struggle with some of those issues of comparing myself to others, as my experiences throughout my life supported that struggle.
Yet, we get to a point in our lives when we realize that we must take the plunge and jump into whatever it is that scares us the most. Art seems to be it for me. The time is now for me to tackle my emotions around these types of art forms.
Jewelry-making, crocheting, fused glass, music and theatre, and many other things have been something in which I have dabbled here and there. I avoided painting and drawing like they were the plague, but I found myself in a Transformational Painting class with Nadine Hamil at Artful Dreamers Studio in Tacoma, Washington nearly three weeks ago.
As promised, here is my experience...
I was running late. I tend to do so anyway, but I think this was due more to my discomfort and dragging my feet a bit. I tried to justify calling Nadine up to cancel, but could not bring myself to do it on several levels.
Contrary to what others may think of me and my abilities to get to know people, I am not generally comfortable in groups of fewer than 20, due to the vulnerability I feel (going back to not fitting in). I felt that way walking in to the basement studio.
Other than the trepidation I felt between people and painting, I loved walking in to the space. There were so many things to see. There was a sense of color and awesome wonder, unlike what I would have expected from an artist gallery or studio. In actuality, there was a randomness and abstract quality to the room.
As much as I loved it and the freedom it represented to me, seeing the tables set up, each place setting with an easel and other things to make us comfortable, I had a sense of deep panic. I am not sure if it were due more to the anticipation of painting or having others see me in my vulnerability.
After Nadine took us through some relaxation and visualization exercises, it was time for us start the project.
Transformational painting, as I understood it, was a step-by-step process to start us on a journey on the canvas, that would (through each step) transform from one thing to completely another.
The 12″x12″ square canvas has already been prepared (primed with gesso) for painting. Using black acrylic paint, we were instructed to write “I am” statements. I decided to use a central theme of “I AM WOMAN” and added adjectives all around the centered words. I painted the adjectives in this order:
Alive, confused, bold, bawdy, brave, blessed, creative, loving, capable, animated, scarred & scared, damaged & hurt, inspiring, direct, caring, in progress, edgy, smart, instigative, talkative, and sassy.
Yep. That just about sums me up. What you see is what you get. What you get is not always, however, the whole of the sum of me.
All the words staring back at me from the canvas made me feel exposed.
There were a series of steps now to take: Paint a light whitewash over the words; using a pastel, draw a spiral from the outside to the inside, then fill in with shape throughout the spiral; using three colors of paints that call out, dip finger in paints and dab in each of the spaces and let dry. Think about what the object of the painting will be and draw it on the canvas using a pencil to get the idea down before outlining it.
Before getting to the penciling stage, I had a breakdown about not knowing what to draw. I (literally) was in flight mode before that, which would have been okay, but I tried to remain in my seat to work through it.
Nadine sat down beside me and talked me through it. I was afraid I was taking away from the experience of the others by making them uncomfortable, but all I could do is give myself the space to feel uncomfortable, be vulnerable, and allow others to see. I sat there, crying, and telling the story of why art was difficult, and then showing my frustration and talking my way through what I wanted to draw. Nadine had suggested a butterfly. I was opposed to that and think I said, “I don’t LIKE butterflies!” I felt like a little kid throwing a fit.
Nadine was so kind. So were the others in the workshop. No one ostracized me or made fun of me. Nadine asked me what I wanted to draw. I think I said, “A heart. I need to show people my heart.”
As she coached me through that process, I found myself telling her (and the others, because they were there in the room) that many see the qualities that I had described on the canvas, and the tough parts of me, but rarely my heart. I shared with her how our mutual friend, Ronna, called me “a lightning bolt of instigation” and how most others are scared away by the power that they see in that or fearful or off-put by the storm that they initially see, that they never get to the big-hearted part of me when they walk away.
“I want people to see that I have a big heart.”
I knew then that I needed to draw a heart for the world to see. It somehow represented a part of me that
others don’t take the time I do not always allow others to see.
I also wanted to own that part of me that is powerful and fierce in the face of all that life has dished out–the lightning bolt. The words on the canvas were still there, even though some were no longer visible. Yet, they are still words that describe my personality and character traits, a part of the whole.
I was pretty emotional during this few minutes.
One of the participants, sitting next to me, slid her cell phone over to me without a word. She had searched for images of hearts with lightning bolts. Her kind gesture made me a bit weepy. What a caring group of women!!
I outlined the heart and bolt in black paint and then painted in the colors that spoke to me. You can still see some of the words come through.
The next step was to paint the background. I began to use my index and middle fingers to apply the paint. I took care not to get TOO messy.
I was heavier on the paint that others were. I am not sure if it was a conscious decision to not allow much to show through or not. Nonetheless, the paint won out over the words, but if you look closely, you can barely make out two words at the bottom of the heart–
sassy and instigative.
There was something missing for me. It looked okay, but it seemed bland to me. I found the glue and the gold glitter. Once I added the “bling,” I actually
liked it felt a twinge that it was something I could hang on a wall.
Of course, artists always sign their work, right? I hardly felt like an artist, but having so many years in performance, I mustered up a sense of performance inside, acting as an artist. I added a signature–Coco 2014. I was not going to use my real name on this in case it found its way someday in a pile of stuff for the thrift store. (Coco is a nickname some have used for me for 30 years.)
By the time I finished, everyone else was gone. I felt that I had taken up way too much of Nadine’s time and was embarrassed and apologetic. Yet, she took a moment and sat down with me. We talked about many things, but this is what I remember of the conversation:
Me: “You know, I have to admit that I kind of like this. It’s the glitter that did it, that made it pop.”
Nadine: “I think so, too.”
Me: “This was extremely painful…the process of it, I mean.”
Nadine: “Did you, at least, have some fun?”
Hearing her words, I started to panic. I could tell her the truth and open myself up to being more vulnerable. I was also worried that I would hurt her feelings by doing so.
Me: “Honestly, no I didn’t. It was not fun for me, but it was necessary. And I actually do like the result.”
I sat for a moment in the echo of my brain having spoken my truth. Nadine did not flinch nor get up and walk away. She simply listened and I knew she cared enough to do so. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I were sharing my deepest secrets with a big sister. It felt a bit awkward to me, but I allowed myself that moment.
I decided to call this painting, “Hear Me Roar!” Perhaps it was due originally to the reference of the old Helen Reddy song, “I Am Woman.” It seemed appropriate at the time, and it has stuck.
Since that day, I have come to an understanding of a few simple truths about myself, as they came out in the painting.
- I am woman under all that I show to the world, and am complex in what I feel and share. I share some of the qualities I possess, but do not always show them in a vulnerable way. I make choices, picking and choosing what I want the world to see.
- I do have a heart that I want the world to see. A big heart. One that cares deeply that I often hide from others because I have felt so much pain. Yet, having a heart does not mean that I am weak.
- The lightning bolt speaks to my fierceness. Much of the world has seen that part of me. It, like my heart, is often misunderstood. Fierceness does not mean that I am unapproachable or heartless, but it does mean I face fear with a determination that others do not easily or readily understand. I am willing to sacrifice a part of myself with an energy that is frightening for some.
- When you marry up the big heart and the lightning bolt, it represents many emotions. It might appear to some that it is a broken heart. It certainly often feels that way in my life, my fierceness often scaring people away and leaving me feeling isolated. When alone, others do not see my heart. Or perhaps, they are also as afraid of my heart as I am.
- Under all that I show (in this case both heart and lightning bolt), I am still the same woman, whether or not it is visible or not. I am made up of so many qualities. If others could peel away all the layers of paint, they would be able to read them.
Just as this process was transformational on the canvas, the experience was equally transforming for me. I am in a place of discovery that I cannot go through alone. I need others to walk beside me, at times. I also need them to understand that in my vulnerability, I am not weak, nor in my fierceness am I unapproachable.
I realize that it requires me to be honest with myself and others, and understand that will not always result in the same people I have known being able to be present. I may need to open myself up to the heartbreak of losing and also the discovery of new experiences and people.
Regardless, under it all and no matter the transformation, still I am woman. And still you will hear me roar.
Some things never change.
* * * * * * * *
Many thanks to Nadine Hamil and Artful Dreamers Studio for helping to start me on this path of my journey. I look forward to many more opportunities to learn, play, and grow.
Thanks, too, to my dear friend, Ronna Detrick (ronnadetrick.com), who has blessed me in more ways than she may even realize. Through her, I met Nadine. But without her, I would not have known how to acknowledge and accept the “lightning bolt” part of me.
Both of these women are instrumental to my learning how to accept and show my heart. I am eternally grateful and love both of these women.
I hope that others who may find themselves reading this blog will also check out the links to these women’s websites. May you be as blessed as I am to get to know each of them.